Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder of the joints caused by an overactive immune system. In people with RA, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. Some people with RA notice that symptoms typically worsen during certain times of the year.
For example, people with RA may experience sharp increases in symptoms in winter or summer. Although there is evidence to suggest that seasonal weather changes affect symptoms, the exact reason for this is unknown.
What Is an RA Flare?
People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experience periods of intense symptoms, including a flare. During a flare, a person with RA will experience the following symptoms:
Flares of symptoms are followed by periods when the symptoms abate. According to the Arthritis Foundation, doctors and people with rheumatoid arthritis may disagree about what constitutes a flare-up.
Most people with arthritis define a flare-up as a period when their symptoms worsen and cause them to miss social and work engagements. To doctors, a flare-up is defined as a period of significant joint involvement and substantial changes in laboratory work.
Flares can sometimes occur without any known reason. However, they can also be triggered by things like:
- food, though there is no evidence to back up any specific food triggers of RA
- infections or other medical issues
- a person’s mood or stress level
- increased physical activity
How Weather May Trigger a Flare
Evidence suggests that changing weather or seasonal patterns may affect a person’s RA symptoms. The reasons for this aren’t clear; some possibilities include:
- Changes in barometric pressure during a cold front can bring on the pain and stiffness that people living with arthritis live with.
- Low temperatures may make the joints stiffer and harder to move.
- People may be less active in colder weather, worsening their RA symptoms.
- Extreme weather conditions can dampen a person’s mood, which, in turn, can worsen RA symptoms.
How to Cope with Seasonal Flares
Cold winters can stress the immune system, triggering rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flares. Here are some strategies to ease RA if cold weather seems to be the trigger:
1. Dress for the Weather: Research shows that colder weather worsens symptoms in people with arthritis, so wearing warm clothes that retain heat may reduce these symptoms. Heat is lost from the extremities, so wearing a scarf, hat, boots, and gloves is vital in cold weather.
2. Wear Thermal Compression Gloves: The release of heat helps relax the fingers and compress them to reduce swelling. Meanwhile, the gloves help to keep the body heat in.
3. Maintain Exercise Routines: People tend to move less in the winter, but staying physically active is critical for managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and stretching can help:
- ease pain and stiffness
- improve range of motion
- boost energy levels and mood
4. Talk with a Doctor About Taking a Vitamin D Supplement: People tend to be deficient in vitamin D during winter because the sun is less intense and the air is colder. Lower vitamin D levels in the blood are linked to more severe RA symptoms and skin sensitivity to pain.
5. Use Heat Therapy: Warm compresses, showers, and baths can help you relax your muscles and enhance your pain tolerance.
If seasonal weather changes or other issues affect a person’s RA, they should talk to a doctor. The doctor may recommend increasing medication or making changes in therapy, such as adjustments to the frequency or schedule of medicine.
At the Center for Arthritis and Osteoporosis, Dr. Adenwalla and the team adopt the finest treatment procedures and diagnostic modalities to manage disease states. We understand that living with arthritis and autoimmune diseases can be an extremely stressful experience. We work to support our patients in their journey from pain to recovery with compassion, care, and employment employing high-end medical technologies like radiographs, MRIs, and ultrasound. If you’re looking for arthritis specialists in New Jersey, we’ve got you covered! Get in touch with us today and let us know how we can help!